As a mother of three children, I've dealt with my fair share of sibling rivalry in my home. Having my first two children close to 3 years apart and different genders, I thought sibling rivalry would take a back seat in our everyday life. However, we did have our fair share of squabbles. As a first time parent, I think it's easy to get over-involved in the hopes of squashing those arguments and solving the disagreements for your children. But this isn't always the best course of action. I think first and foremost it's important to understand that sibling rivalry is very normal and according to professionals, sibling rivalry is inevitable and isn't all bad.
Through sibling rivalry, children learn important lessons about how to deal with life, conflict and resolution. They learn how to cope with negative feelings and how to get along with and deal with people different than themselves. These childhood disagreements teach our children that life isn't always fair, and that feeling love and anger at the same time is human, natural and real. What better environment, and with whom is better than dealing with these life lessons than in your own home with the people you love the most?
Some sibling disagreements actually start out of boredom and as a way to get parent's attention.
The most important thing to remember as a parent is to not feed into the argument and to instead allow the siblings to resolve their own problems. Try to avoid using questions such as, "Who started it?" There's nothing wrong with acknowledging both children's feelings and allowing them to process aloud their thoughts, just make sure you don't come to your own conclusion or "play judge". Encourage your child to use "I statements", and ask them questions such as, "Tell me some ways you can work this out?" Help your children to calmly express their feelings and if necessary, to walk away and count to 10 (or 20 if they're really heated).
Feeling like your children want your attention?
Aim to try to sit down and spend time alone with each of your children, completely uninterrupted and fully connected. For younger children this may look like a cuddle with a book and conversation, or a game of "Go Fish." For older children, it may look like a quick ice cream date or sitting on your child's bed telling jokes or playing "Would you Rather?" If your child can count on spending quality time with you, it may be less attractive to cause a distraction when you're focused on her sibling.
Avoid playing the fairness game with your children.
It's okay for siblings to have different bed times, responsibilities at home, or curfews. Life is not always fair and children are not equal. They are unique, so make sure to point this out to your children. They will benefit from knowing their parents parent them as individuals and are in-tune to their personal needs. Trying to make things "fair" at home will only lead to more problems as children start to keep score and resentment starts to brew between family members.
Deal with sibling rivalry through comedy and laughter.
Oftentimes we would make our two oldest sit on the couch and hold hands or hug for 30 seconds (feels like forever) after an argument. This would inevitably start off with rolling of the eyes and major huffs and puffs, but would end with giggles and laughter. It changes the tone of the moment and gives the siblings something else to focus on; the uncomfortableness of holding hands.
However you choose to parent through sibling rivalry, know that your children are capable of achieving agreement and peace without your help. Give them the space and time necessary to process their feelings and make them known. And don't expect to get rid of competition. It's impossible and actually healthy for your child's development. And remember, this time too shall pass. A siblings love of one another will never cease and a siblings bond is one of the strongest we as humans have.